Monday, March 23, 2020

Chinese tea producers talk about corona virus experience

First posted in TChing.

This title sounds a bit more extensive than the post will be.  I asked a few online friends in China (contacts, if you'd rather) about their experience with this virus issue, and they passed on some thoughts.

it was no time ago we were uncertain of risk but still going out

I'd hoped it would come together better than it did.  It had seemed the human side of the story was getting lost in the first six weeks of reporting on it, and the fear and unusual restrictions within China were special conditions not being considered elsewhere.  As everyone knows the entire country was essentially closed down for a month, then not completely re-opened after.  Then the accounts passed on by contacts in China were mostly just about people missing the normal New Year holiday experience, and being bored in isolation, and concerned.  Economic impact came up; it's hard to imagine how extensive that would be, or how long it would take for full effects to trickle down.  I'll share some input all the same.

as a parent this picture had an impact on me

My good friend Cindy of Wuyi Origin described the general earlier status:

So from 26th [of January] the government took fast action, and did not allowed the  people to gather together, and not go outside. Each village closed the roads in order to protect the village's people.  They did not allow outside people to enter their village. For example Wuyishan has 3 high speed ports (highways?) but the government here closed that.  No one can stop in Wuyishan and enter here from high-speed ports before the 18th  of Feb.

Another contact mentioned how although this sounds extreme he actually approved of it, since that extreme measure was for the benefit of the entire country, and was probably the only way to stop virus transmission effectively.  I'll get back to that other input but wanted to also mention Cindy's take on the impact on the economy.

Several doctors and nurses lost their lives in this incident.  And in China many enterprises face bankruptcy. It is really a big  influence on the economy. In Wuyishan now, 80 percent of the shops are not open [to be clear that was a bit earlier, maybe different now].  All the hotels and  restaurants cannot start the business until the situation is stable.

...One of my cousins invested in a  hotel in Wuyishan.  He invested a lot of his family's savings, and borrowed some from others.  This will cause very poor business for his hotel, like SARS in 2003.  That lasted almost 2 years, then everything went back to normal...

I just saw a FB post warning that business layoffs in the US are likely now from the slow-down of panic, without any remotely similar cause or condition as just occurred in China.  That doesn't make US business problems any less real or valid, just pointing out that a consumer spending slow-down and completely closing down a country for a month are two different kinds of things.

Here's a tea related article on that:  Retail Impact of COVID-19 is Devastating for Tea and Coffee Shops in China and Italy.  This isn't a research post about that topic though; I'll add a bit more first-hand impression.  This more recent input about a return to normal is from Philip of Yiwu Mountain Tea:

I returned to Guangzhou as businesses are officially allowed to open under strict guidelines.  everyone has to wear a face mask.  I was temperature checked 5 times en route.  I have to register electronically and get checked with my WeChat account whenever I arrive at a destination saying where I came from.  At my business I am required to log and temperature check all visitors.

I also hear that there are offshore Chinese going through Thailand as there are no direct flights to Chinese destinations.  Not that I think the risk is very high but then again you never know who is doing what abroad.  The UK has seen a sudden rise in confirmed cases in the last couple of days.

The restrictions could seem like they might not go over well in the US, but we are doing exactly those kinds of things here in Bangkok now, just not consistently, and it's not mandatory (but scaling up).  The security guard at my office checks my temperature sometimes, just not always.  In an earlier discussion comment (from before the re-opening mentioned in that comment) he had mentioned the other issue I'm getting into here, secondary impact, also tied to tea status:

It's been a very quiet month - normally a lot of new year feasting and visiting of distant relatives would be par for the course but this year it's been more sit and chill and try not to think about the worst.  We have elderly with poor health so we have to be extra cautious, especially with hospitals so poorly equipped in this region. 

It's also a case of worries since Spring tea will come soon and visitors may bring in dormant virus late, or nearly as bad,  not come at all and lose income for the year.  That would be a disaster for  cash flow for everyone in the local tea biz. It's also very likely that there will be a shortage of hired labour, and in combination with a very dry year so far,  it's going to another low production year even if people are ready to buy.

I personally am not so worried about paying more for tea, although I am concerned for the health of people everywhere.  Especially in my own family; my wife's mother is in her late 70's, and not in great health, and she matches way too much of the profile of the highest risk cases for this virus.  I'm sure that my wife and kids and I could get it and ride it out but that's not as safe an option for her.  I think my parents could weather it too but hopefully that won't be tested.

Those are just fragments; others said more.  Those comments seemed to capture how this crisis is occurring across more than one dimension, even if they really didn't add much detail to the human cost some have suffered.

People tend to frame this by looking at the number of flu deaths in comparison, which isn't completely unfair (16,000 so far for this flu season).  The mortality rate is the main concern, probably around 2-3% versus .1% for the typical flu (or at close to 4% dividing out confirmed deaths versus confirmed cases, which is surely incomplete per both stats).

a Farmerleaf video on how this will affect tea production, and one on William's quarantine experience

Later update:  a lot has changed in the week since I wrote this initial post draft.  The US is shutting down now, and I've cancelled a family vacation for the end of this month, and a trip back to the US in May for a wedding seems unlikely.  It's too bad; I've not visited my family for a few years.

None of that changes China's experience with the virus from the first two months of this year, but perspective on it seems different, since that's now a shared experience.  This is why I had a problem with the human cost being overlooked there; even beyond the deaths, which are personal tragedies, and related economic impact, it seems wrong to just write off the fear and uncertainty experienced by an entire nation.  I hope this goes better for the entire world than it now seems that it will.

This situation is bad enough but learning more about risks and protection steps helps balance out sensational media reporting.  The Center for Disease Control offers tips for prevention here, and advice on steps to follow if you become sick.  It should help to replace blind fear with taking well-informed steps for protection.

the most recent version, another week later; definitely scary

March 15; numbers went up a lot in a week

the early draft version on this dashboard site from March 7, 2 weeks ago

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